Meet Lloyd’s New Entrepreneur of the Year

Joe Carnell told us how to run a disruptive business


Joe Carnell won the Lloyds Bank New Entrepreneur of the Year award this week. 

He never went to university and his business isn’t based in London. He’s never worked for a big company.

After declining his university offers three years ago he founded the healthy-eating outlet ÜGOT with SBTV supremo Jamal Edwards.

It has a particular focus on gluten-free produce. He designed the first food menu, which he says was mainly gluten-free pesto pasta (“not a great idea”).

Joe hanging with Jimmy

Joe hanging with Jimmy

Joe and ÜGOT’s focus is on a new generation of consumers who are of conscious of food as they are of music and fashion.

University feels

“Being that guy who wants to be at uni who’s not at uni”

I got all my offers and I thought I’d rather spend three years doing something different, even if it didn’t work out. I was worried I’d do three years at uni and come out really confused about what I was going to do.

I was going to go to Newcastle to do economics and business management and then come out and try and do what I’m doing now anyway. Learning on the job is difficult but I think it’s the best way to learn.

I’ve learnt more in the last three years than I would have done doing a degree. I mean, there’s certain things – ways of looking at them in an abstract way – that I haven’t looked into and studied, which I would have done at uni. It may have been beneficial to do but I’ve picked up other things: practicality, application and how ideas work in the real world.

With courage in your convictions, self-belief and finding your niche you can do anything.

The business

After declining all my uni offers I did come home and think “what the fuck am I doing with my life.”

I started to think and one of the things I latched onto was being gluten-free. It’s meant that I’ve always struggled to eat at places, especially when I’m travelling. Providing food for people with intolerances, people like myself and even people who simply prefer to eat gluten-free, is a big deal nowadays.

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The York branch

I was bored of monotonous places like Pret and I was annoyed by the kind of niche, raw quinoa for breakfast brands establishing themselves in London. Both are expensive, both are pretentious – who wants to eat in a place where people care more about what you’re wearing than the food? There had to be a sensible middle ground.

The aim is to establish something which serves healthy, fresh, tasty food. Served in an inviting, unpretentious place, somewhere you’d like to go with friends. I don’t want it to be like Pret or Pod or Eat, who simply provide a service while losing touch with modern consumers. Pret only just launched it’s own Instagram.

ÜGOT's salmon salad

ÜGOT’s salmon salad

We spent a year planning everything from menu development to product design to brand identity. We launched in October 2013 in York station, a small site but one with a load of footfall and a great place to test things out.

Now we’ve got two sites open at the moment and another three planned for January. The company is making good money and expanding. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself with a business and a brand, sometimes I forget we only have two sites.

We have big plans intersecting the business with charity and music, hopefully we’ll progress with these over the next six to ten months.

The future will see us coming on to the high-street in Newcastle and York. Our range is going to be 90 per cent gluten-free. The dream is to have our entire range gluten-free and tasting better than if it did have gluten in it.

Spiced chicken and sweet potato salad

Spiced chicken and sweet potato salad

The products, ingredients and flavours will sell themselves, for the customer the fact they’re gluten-free will be an afterthought and when they realise it they will be amazed. Hopefully we’ll change people’s perceptions.

I’ve been approached by private investors who’ve said “we’d like to take 40 per cent of your company”. I just thought “fuck that” you know? I’m not working this hard to be controlled by an accountant who’s going to sit there and ask for a certain return by a certain date. I’m lucky to have had backing from the bank

Lloyds Bank New Entrepreneur of the Year

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Winning the award was great for me and the company. It’s free press and free marketing. You don’t set out to win awards. It’s mainly a nice bit of acknowledgement of what we’ve done to date.

It’s also recognition for the fact that people can do things without going to uni, without throwing a shed load of money at their life, without spending five years in a large company, without living in London.

All the people who work for me are young and hungry, like me a lot of them haven’t gone to uni. So it was recognition for them as well. I think it showed we can compete in a corporate environment.

Philosophy

When you talk to people about eating salad or the benefits of juicing you just sound like a mum saying “eat your greens.” No one wants to be reminded of that. I wanted to repackage the whole experience of eating healthily. You do that by creating an environment and an experience, not by preaching.

I want us to be a platform for discovery: for new products, for new ingredients. I want people to eat with us and find things they never realised they liked. You want people to walk away thinking “fuck I’ve never had that before but I love it.”

We support local musicians in each city we’re in, giving them an opportunity to reach new audiences through us and SBTV which my partner founded.

Jamal Edwards MBE

Jamal and I met through a friend of mine five years ago. He was up and coming back then, he’d just signed with Sony. For me it was, how can we give the perception that food is cool, specifically health food.

Three years ago food was nowhere near as cool as it is today.

Joe and Jamal

Joe and Jamal

Jamal said to me “I have no idea how to run a food business” and I said “well I have no idea how to run a music business.” He’s massively supportive of young entrepreneurs. He sees the vision I have for the company and gets that I’m not about using anyone for their name.

It’s about giving hope to people to follow their passions the way Jamal did. He’s a huge inspiration to people. His mentor is Branson, he got an MBE last year. He’s fucking talented, he knows what he’s doing and he’s great marketeer.

Making mistakes

I’ve made fuck loads of mistakes and I make them every day but you move on.

We’ve learned to make our product more everyday. We still have the gluten-free items and the superfoods but we also have sandwiches and other things that won’t freak out normal consumers.

I want to be in an environment flexible enough to accommodate mistakes. This is how you disrupt what’s out there at the moment. I don’t want someone with rational ideas running the brand. I want someone with irrational ideas executing it.

You have to be aware of people walking in, being confused and saying “Woah, I’m going to go to Starbucks. We’re not going to try and reinvent the sandwich any time soon.